LDP political funds scandal Japan's top news story of 2023

A political funds scandal involving members of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party has been picked as the top domestic news story of 2023 by senior editors of Kyodo News and its member or subscriber newspapers and broadcasters.

(1) LDP's largest faction ousted from Cabinet amid political funds scandal

Members of the LDP's largest faction once led by the late Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, as well as those belonging to a faction led by former LDP Secretary General Toshihiro Nikai, came under investigation by prosecutors for allegedly failing to declare hundreds of millions of yen of fundraising party revenue in political funds reports.

Prime Minister Fumio Kishida effectively forced out members of the Abe faction from his Cabinet in December, while prosecutors began questioning the faction's lawmakers on a voluntary basis.

(2) Victims speak out in Johnny's sex abuse scandal

Allegations that Johnny Kitagawa, the late head of Japan's top male talent agency formerly known as Johnny & Associates Inc., had sexually abused aspiring teenage pop singers for decades was brought into the spotlight following a BBC documentary in March featuring interviews with multiple people claiming to be victims.

The agency admitted to the allegations, with his niece Julie Keiko Fujishima stepping down as president. Domestic media outlets were also criticized for years of silence on the matter.

(3) Legal status of COVID-19 downgraded, overseas tourists return

The government in May downgraded the legal status of COVID-19 to Class 5, or the same category as seasonal influenza. The government no longer legally recommends hospitalization for coronavirus patients nor asks the public to refrain from going out.

The move, alongside a weak yen, contributed to a sharp recovery in overseas visitors.

(4) Consumer inflation hits 41-year high

Consumer inflation in Japan accelerated to 3.0 percent in fiscal 2022 through March, the fastest pace in 41 years. Prices rose for a wide range of items including food and household goods as the weak yen inflated import costs and Russia's invasion of Ukraine led to higher energy prices.

(5) Average summer temperatures hit record high

Average temperatures for the June-August period became the hottest since records began in 1898, 1.76 C higher than the three-month average recorded between 1991 and 2020, and exceeded the previous record in 2010 that saw the mercury rise 1.08 C above the average.

(6) Japan releases treated water from Fukushima nuclear plant

Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings Inc. started discharging treated radioactive water from the wrecked Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant into the sea after diluting the concentration of tritium. TEPCO plans on releasing the water through 2051.

The move prompted China to ban imports of all seafood products from Japan.

(7) Government files for court order to dissolve Unification Church

The Japanese government filed a request with the Tokyo District Court in October to dissolve the Unification Church, which has been found responsible in some civil lawsuits for pressuring people into making huge donations, in a move that will deprive the group of its tax benefits.

The religious organization opposed the move, saying civil law torts do not constitute requirements to issue a dissolution order.

(8) Shogi prodigy Fujii becomes 1st to hold all 8 titles

Shogi prodigy Sota Fujii won the best-of-five Oza series against Takuya Nagase in October, making him the first player of the traditional board game ever to hold eight titles.

(9) Japan hosts G7 summit in Hiroshima, joined by Zelenskyy

Japan hosted the Group of Seven summit in Hiroshima in May, marking the first time for the leaders of the nations including nuclear powers the United States, France and Britain to visit the atomic-bombed city at the same time.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy also joined the meeting.

(10) Hanshin wins 1st Japan Series title since 1985

The Hanshin Tigers in November won their first Japan Series championship since 1985 by beating the defending champion Orix Buffaloes, their second victory in the franchise's history.

© Kyodo News